The internet got excited yesterday when an old man living in a Vietnamese jungle identified himself as Sgt. John Hartley Robinson, a US soldier who disappeared in Laos in 1968. Interest spiked in an upcoming documentary about the man, who'd raised a Vietnamese family. There was only problem: He was a liar.
Robinson, a Special Forces soldier who disappeared at the height of America's involvement in Southeast Asia and had his name inscribed as a casualty on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, was reportedly discovered by the producers of Unclaimed, a documentary about the missing man that was set to premiere at the DC-based GI Film Festival later this week.
The man they'd found—who exhibited Western features but was "unable to remember his birthday, his American children’s names, or how to speak English," according to the credulous Daily Mail—told researchers his helicopter had crashed during a Laotian firefight, and he'd been held prisoner by North Vietnamese soldiers for four years, before escaping into the jungle.
Except that the man they'd found had been telling a similar story for more than 20 years, and the US government had determined he was a charlatan seeking military back pay and benefits, the Independent reports:
According to a memo sent to a UK news organisation yesterday evening, the man claiming to be Sgt Robertson is in fact Dang Tan Ngoc – a 76-year-old Vietnamese citizen of French origin who has a history of pretending to be US army veterans...
In 1991 Ngoc attracted the attention of former CIA Paramilitary Operations Officer Billy Waugh, who was involved in the capture of Carlos the Jackal and who later tracked Osama bin Laden through the Tora Bora Mountains in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
Waugh led a team of investigators into the Vietnamese jungle and was able to take DNA from Ngoc.
After Waugh’s visit, Ngoc’s name became synonymous with conmen impersonating US army veterans that are missing in action. There is still a huge amount of anger among legitimate Vietnam veterans at the deception.